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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A move towards open government

The City of Trenton's Web site reflects the "business as usual" attitude of Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, who has made it perfectly clear on many occasions that he would rather do governmental work in secrecy than have an open government more conducive to civic involvement.

Candidates and officials who like positive change in the city should consider changing those kinds of policies, and placing and updating more information on the city Web site at a more frequent pace.

Sometime over the past two years the people maintaining the site have fallen further and further behind in putting up many important city documents, like City Council dockets, meeting minutes, and meeting agendas.

If it wasn't for Mill Hill resident Jim Carlucci's civic calendar, recipients like me would have to walk over to City Hall for every meeting just to find out what is on the agenda.

But everyone in the city doesn't receive that civic event list each week, and much of what is done over in City Hall - even during public meetings - is really being done in the dark, because residents and other stakeholders have little or no warning when something of great importance is being discussed.

City Council members didn't even know that they were still paying the contract of ousted gang czar Barry Colicelli, so it becomes even more alarming that there is such a high degree of difficulty in finding out exactly what is contained on City Council's docket each week.

They apparently don't even know what is on the docket or coming out of the city coffers either.

The importance of the items on that docket cannot be understated.

The City Council for a place like Trenton sees so many items on those sheets of paper that many of them are voted on and passed without in-depth review or questioning of administration officials pushing the measures.

That happens despite the fact that many of those resolutions carry significant consequences with them, especially in the expenditure of the taxpayer dollars of a city like Trenton that is so financially distressed.

In West Windsor Township, every Township Council agenda is placed online days before the actual meeting, and any resident with a computer can click on each resolution or ordinance and read the pertinent documents themselves.

The council chamber itself even has two large clipboards that contain not only the resolutions or ordinances for the night, but the actual contracts, purchasing orders, and other important documents that usually require a time-consuming and expensive Open Public Records Act request in Trenton.

Maybe future political candidates should consider adopting some of these practices so the government can operate more openly, under the watchful eyes of caring citizens.

The old, closed system certainly doesn't seem to work as well.


Old Mill Hill said...

After reading about this "community calendar" I contacted Mr. Carlucci to find out how to subscribe.

He said anyone can sign on simply by sending an email to

Greg Forester said...

Oh what a guy that Jim is!